4.22.2009

The mind boggling complexity of paternal play


My son likes to wrestle: "Let's have a battle, Dad," he screams as he runs full speed into my legs, belly, butt, swinging his tight, bony little fists. This happens often. It is a deliriously complex exchange:

1. The play is a competition, the young male trying to outdo the alpha male (it is the only instance when I am, in fact, an alpha male — and even that standing is precarious).

2. The play is an education as the alpha (me!) teaches the young beast how to wrangle, defend, attack. It is presumably in my best interest to make him able to defend himself so he can continue to carry on my genes and so he can hunt for the pack.

3. But simultaneously I am training him to beat me.

4. And yet when he senses that he can beat me, he backs off nervously. He wants his alpha to be strong and capable. And so the play seeks at once to confirm my position as king of the pack and to dethrone me.

5. There is, too, a beautiful madness, a delirium, to these battles as we heave, tickle, swat each other in a frenzy of laughs and snorts, a Dionysian release of a sort.

How am I to play my role? It is an ever shifting negotiation in which I sometimes let him win — whatever "win" means in this context—, sometimes dominating him mercilessly, sometimes showing pain (his bony little body hurts!), sometimes not. I am alternately defending my position, playing pedagogue, and putting the beast in his place.

Just this moment, he left for his capoeira class that I am paying for. I am funding my imminent demise.

6 comments:

V said...

I know you don't dig Freud, but he's got loads to say about this particular dynamic.

More immediately, though, capoeira as a combat system is only effective in movies that go straight to Cinemax, so I wouldn't sweat it too much.

Daniel Coffeen said...

There's nothing like having one's spawn vie for one's position to bring Freud home. I suddenly understand Oedipus not as a bourgeois domestic drama but a drama of the species played out in the domestic arena.

That may have been obvious to most. But I just learned it in my bones.

Amna said...

haha super cute. i don't remember much of my younger years (i fell on my head once and i'm convinced i lost a chunk of my memory...it's funny, i know, but really, i think i lost something there...), but i do remember my rather futile attempt at destroying my father. i was maybe 3 years old and i charged at him while he was crouching over the tape player. i punched him in the stomach and he fell back and looked at me in complete bewilderment. i gave no warning. i simply charged. anyway, he didn't fight back, but in retrospect i wish he had. i'm all about eliminating gender bias and i'm sure my brother would have gotten a playful beating if he had done that. besides, i would have been much more tamable if my parents had tried to wrestle me into submission as a little child instead of as a young adult. oh well, their loss i suppose.

BWR said...

actually capoeira is on some brazilian rainforest animist voodoo business, which is kind of scarier than pure brawn.

alejandro jodorowsky (he of el topo and holy mountain fame, if you are down for pure mind-melting filmic spectacle d i highly recommend them) wrote a graphic novel entitled 'metabaron' in which an elite group of soldiers, as a last test, are required to battle their fathers to the death.

V said...

This too: That picture is perfect.

Daniel Coffeen said...

True dat.